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The Government is Scaring Us to Death

by Dave Lindorff

While the risk to Americans of dying at the hands of a terrorist is roughly equal to the chance of “drowning in a toilet,” the risk of cardiovascular disease among people frightened about terrorism is 300-500% higher than for people who are not worried.
Well, now we know. Scientists have documented that the Bush/Cheney administration has been a greater threat to Americans’ health and safety than Osama Bin Laden and his terror band.

Specifically, The New York Times, in its science section today, reports that a new study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry has found that while the risk to Americans of dying at the hands of a terrorist was roughly equal to the chance of “drowning in a toilet,” the risk of cardiovascular disease among people who are frightened about the threat of terrorism is 300-500% higher than for people who are not worried.

What this means is that the Bush/Cheney administration, by constantly hyping the nation’s fears of terror through the use of everything from daily color-coded terror alerts, to absurd inspection procedures at airline terminals and parcel post restrictions, is actually scaring some of us to death.

And for what?

From the moment those planes hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon back in September 2001, Bush, Cheney and their allies—Republican and Democrat—in Congress and the media have been peppering us with warnings that the “bad guys” are out to kill us, to destroy our way of life, and to defeat America.

It has been a ludicrous idea from the start. The idea that small gang of guys from the Middle East could bring the mightiest nation that the world has ever known to its knees, or even significantly threaten the safety and security of the people of the United States is simply absurd and laughable. Why, even the detonation of a small smuggled nuclear device in or near an American city, should such a thing ever come to pass, would be less of a threat to the nation as a whole than the eruption of one of our many active volcanoes—say Mt. Rainier or Mt. Hood, or the Yellowstone caldera—or an 8 or 9-point earthquake in San Francisco or Los Angeles. And those natural disasters are probably more likely than the explosion of a terrorist nuke.

Yet Bush, Cheney and other charlatans like Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and the former senator and now Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Rick Santorum continue to do the scare routine, warning that we are in grave danger—from Al Qaeda or Iran getting The Bomb, to Venezuela buying military aircraft from Brazil, to Cuba manufacturing dangerous biological weapons.

I have been stunned at the response of my fellow Americans to this blatant nonsense. Shortly after the Twin Towers went down, my local school district announced the cancellation for the entire year of all school trips! There was a fear among parents and members of the local school authorities that the buses carrying them to museums or the zoo might pose tempting targets for terrorists! Our kids were also treated to scary “intruder lockdowns” where they’d be locked with their teachers in their classrooms while local cops dressed in black SWAT gear and armed with assault rifles played army in the hallways looking for imaginary terrorists.

I’ve gone on plane flights where I’ve had to wait in line for an hour while Transportation Security Administration guards check the tiny shoes of six-month-old infants to make sure they weren’t shoe bombs, and have had to surrender countless bottles of mouthwash and drinking water and tubes of toothpaste, all suspected of being smuggled explosives. (I was also honored with an “S” mark on my boarding pass a couple of times, which meant I was pulled aside for special inspection for fear I might be a terrorist myself.)

All of this nonsense, however, is coming with a price. I can laugh because I know it’s nonsense. But some people aren’t laughing. They’re living in fear. And that fear is causing them to suffer cardiovascular disease, according to this new study.

Of course, that’s only the tip of the iceberg, really, when it comes to the cost of the Washington terror scam.

American businesses have spent literally tens of billions of dollars—maybe hundreds of billions of dollars—on security measures, fearing terror attacks on their installations, or on their communications, or on Wall Street. Thousands of foreign science students and scientists have been banned from the US—or even deported--for fear they might be terrorists in training. Municipalities and states have spent billions in taxpayer dollars on security that they simply don’t need. My little town of Upper Dublin, just north of Philadelphia, with just some 26,000 people, has its own police SWAT team, for Pete’s sake, complete with a large gray SWAT vehicle—a panel truck loaded with heavy combat firepower capable of repelling a small third-world army. I wonder how many teachers that money could have hired? Maybe they wouldn’t have had to let the elementary music program go down the tubes.

I haven't mentioned the whole $1-2 trillion War in Iraq, which was all the result of presidential and vice presidential scare mongering.

And of course, that’s just the financial cost of scare mongering. We’ve also given up most of our Bill or Rights, and even some more ancient rights, like the right of Habeas Corpus. And we’re about to give up our entire right to privacy if the government gets its way and introduces a national identity card. How far away are we from having to get injected with identity chips?

All this panic and fear, and yet we still sing this national anthem that calls America “the home of the brave”?

I don’t think so. "Home of the scared shitless" might be more appropriate.

The good news is that maybe this new report on the health threat posed by government scare mongering will cause people to do something about it. If there’s one thing Americans get worked up about, it’s threats to their health. Look how anxious people get about Bird Flu, West Nile Virus, Anthrax, Bubonic Plague, AIDS, etc. Maybe now that we’re learning that worrying about terror can kill us, we’ll demand that officials and politicians in Washington just shut the hell up about it.

I don’t know about you, but I really don’t think about terrorists. The chances that I’m going to be the victim of a bombing, plane hijacking or mall attack is so minimal it can’t be measured.

I’m much more worried that the country that I grew up in has been hijacked by a bunch of power-mad war-mongers bent on destroying the Constitution and bringing to an end the free and free-wheeling society we’ve been building for over 200 years.

I hope that worrying doesn’t end up giving me a heart attack...

Lindorff speakingAbout the author: Philadelphia journalist Dave Lindorff is a 34-year veteran, an award-winning journalist, a former New York Times contributor, a graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, a two-time Journalism Fulbright Scholar, and the co-author, with Barbara Olshansky, of a well-regarded book on impeachment, The Case for Impeachment. His work is available at

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This story was published on January 15, 2008.